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Militaria Events Round Up

Militaria Events Round Up

Experienced re-enactment event organisers know that there is an optimum size for a show, which will satisfy both participating groups and visitors alike. Likewise, re-enactment groups and individual ‘strollers’ are also aware of that fact. Visitors, for their part, want value for money from an event, which is truly memorable for all the right reasons. That is where and how it is presented comes in when it concerns an event, whatever the period being featured.

Mostly, re-enactment events are held over a weekend and that is usually sufficient for visitors and participating groups. If the show is too small, people can be disappointed. Obviously, organisers want to give value for money, but if the event is too big, visitors do not get to see everything, and they feel as though they have missed out. Getting the size right is as important as having the right groups on site, which will interact with the public and put of great displays.

It is the participating groups that generate the interest and the reason why people come to see an event. Experienced groups will know what is expected of them and can be relied on to get on with things, allowing the organising team to look after other essentials, such as toilet facilities, first aid and information centres. The traders also add to the event and satisfy the wants and needs of both visitors and re-enactors, who are also collectors.

Home front

Events such as the Dig for Victory Show, organised by James Shopland (www. digforvictoryshow.com) and held at the North Somerset Showground near Wraxall in Somerset, and the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway 1940s weekend (www.gwsr.com) have got the balance and size of their respective events just right. The theme in each case is Home Front and both encourage interaction between the public and the groups. Trade stands are on site at both venues and the atmosphere is very much family orientated. However, if I was pressed into singling out an event, which has got everything right, it would have to be Wartime in the Vale (www.ashdowncamp.com). Held at the Ashdown WWII Camp at Badsey near Evesham, Worcestershire WR11 7EN, this event has it all. Don’t get me wrong, please, because there is nothing wrong with any of the other events, but between them, Amy Jelfs and Emma James, present a superb wartime weekend. You only need to look on Facebook and see the number of ‘5 star’ ratings given to the event by visitors. Having visited the event once, many are now confirmed supporters of the show.

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This event is held over a weekend in June and it is the right size to see everything in one day. However, there is sufficient on site to go for both days. With hundreds of vehicles, dozens of static displays by re-enactors and traders’ stalls of all description, Wartime in the Vale has it all. Whether visitors are collectors of militaria or interested in military hardware from vehicles to weapons, at Wartime in the Vale, they can indulge in both interests. The show has an annual theme, which this year focused on the First World War, which was fitting because of the Centenary.

FANYs on horseback!

The main attraction for vehicle enthusiasts was the recreated Mk IV ‘Female’ tank, built by Guy Martin and his team, which was the subject of a television documentary. Known as ‘Deborah II’ it looked superb in the arena, along with some British infantry escorting it. This display was followed by a mounted display by ladies of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry riding their horses, to show how the unit evolved to become an indispensable medical unit on the Western Front. Mobility displays by different categories of vehicles in the arena was a treat for all enthusiasts. The site has original Nissen huts, which are used to house different exhibitions, including an armoury with a comprehensive display of weapons. Emma’s late father was an enthusiast of the American unit known as the ‘Seabees’, a combat construction unit, and collected items and vehicles associated with them. In tribute to this and a continuation of this interest, one of the Nissen huts now houses a Seabees exhibition. Another new addition was a display of German ‘home front’ items with radios, clothing and civilian artefacts. This event is a perfect example of having sufficient space for everything and being able to fill it with good displays and demonstrations. Some locations have lots of space, but, unfortunately, it is not filled. Conversely, some locations are jam-packed with loads of trade stands and displays, to the point where visitors are not able to see things properly. It is a question of getting things right and this takes time. Once the formula has been worked out, stick with it, as in the cases of Wartime in the Vale and Dig For Victory. Change the displays to keep things interesting but do not expand outside what the site can cope with. The Tank Museum at Bovington have a ticket limit for Tankfest, because the team there know how many people can be accommodated and catered for comfortably.

Bigger and better

Big shows, such as Military Odyssey, work because they are on for longer duration, normally for three days over a Bank Holiday weekend, and they present a diverse range of displays and battle re-enactment scenarios. Those events themed as 1940s also work over three days, such as the Welshpool 1940s Weekend (www.welshpool1940sweekend. co.uk) and the Papplewick Pumping Station 1940s Weekend (email: terry59@ me.com for details).

The very big shows, such as War & Peace Revival, with hundreds of trades stands for collectors and thousands of vehicles for enthusiasts, are held over five days, which allows visitors with various interests to attend on the day, which best suits them. For example, militaria collectors concentrate on the trade stands and see everything else as a bonus. For vehicle enthusiasts, it is the other way around. But in the end, everybody is satisfied and that is why they return year on year. The biggest of all is the week-long Chalke Valley History Festival (www.chhf.org.uk) which is a multiperiod event, with historians as guest speakers to present talks. It is a question of what event organisers do with the resources available to them.

This applies from on-site facilities to what invited participants can bring with them, either as vehicle owners or whole groups of reenactors with static displays, who can also present real-life action demonstrations, such as foot patrols or weapon firing. Small events can be just as exciting as the larger events and it is interesting to see them grow.

For example, last year at Westonzoyland in Somerset, a small local event was held in a farmer’s field for the first time. This year it was bigger and more exciting, with more traders and vehicles. The site had been used as an airfield during the war with pillboxes built for defence. Re-enactors used these in part of their displays and pilots even flew in their light wartime Auster aircraft, landing on what had once been part of the wartime runway. The organisers here are really making use of their size and can be an example to other event organisers. It’s this versatility which makes re-enactment the exciting pastime it is and keeps it perennially fresh.

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